February 6, 2020

‘Negligible’: Qantas threatens to sack coronavirus cleaners | Daily Telegraph

One employee has been stood down and others threatened with the sack after cleaners working aboard Qantas planes hailing from China expressed concerns about the threat of coronavirus. READ THE LETTER

February 6, 2020 9:36am

Georgia Clark, The Daily Telegraph

Qantas has stood-down an employee and threatened to sack others after a staff member told colleagues they could refuse to work on China-bound flights amid ongoing coronavirus fears.

The man, who was a qualified health and safety advisor for Qantas, was stood down on Sunday after telling staff they could strike if they had concerns about their health and safety, Alan Jones revealed on 2GB this morning.

Just days earlier, Qantas sent a letter threatening to terminate at least two cleaners who refused to work on a flight which last Thursday arrived in Sydney from Beijing, the Transport Workers Union confirmed.

The threat of coronavirus is still very real for people using and working at airports. Picture: AFP


“In these circumstances you cannot reasonably confirm working on an aircraft to China would expose you to a serious risk to your health and safety,” the letter reads.

“The company is formally directing you to perform your duties including on aircraft originating from China.”

The news comes after the airline last week announced it would continue to operate flights to and from China despite growing fears of the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal just a day before transferring Australians stuck in Wuhan to Christmas Island, the airline stood down the staff member for telling colleagues they could refrain from working.

The letter to employees. Picture: Supplied


Union secretary Michael Kaine said the situation was “outrageous.”

“He’s a workplace leader who has undertaken all statutory training to become an expert in health and safety doing what he thought was his duty, saying he felt a reasonable concern,” Mr kaine said.

“This is heavy-handed, bullying.”

Mr Kaine said Qantas’ direction is potentially unlawful and employees who have a reasonable concern over their health and safety do not have to work.

“To say their belief is not reasonable when they’re working on the frontline cleaning these flights is a double standard,” he said.

“You have to put yourself in their position. They have to go home to their families. Can they look their children in the eye and kiss their child on the cheek and say with absolute certainty they are not infected?”

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has yet to weigh in on the issue. Picture: AAP


Mr Kaine also claimed some flights from China were not being properly cleaned and staff were not being issued appropriate supplies.

“There are flights coming in still from other places in China that are by no means immune from the virus in normal service.”

The worker should be immediately reinstated and Qantas should issue a direction advising staff they are free to exercise their rights, Mr Kaine said.

Speaking with Mr Jones on 2GB this morning about the letter, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the matter was between Qantas and the employees.

“It’s a difficult time and it’s important we calmly proceed with putting arrangements in place and I would think that’s what’s happening with the company as well,” Mr Morrison said.

In the interview, Jones accused Qantas of “playing medical god.”

Qantas is standing by the letter issued to employees. Picture: AFP


Qantas is standing by the letter, telling The Daily Telegraph the union delegate incorrectly told employees it was not safe to work on aircraft arriving from China.

“We would never ask our employees to work in unsafe conditions,” Qantas Medical’s Dr Russell Brown said.

“The TWU knows full well that the risk of aviation workers contracting coronavirus as a result of working on an aircraft originating from a China are very low. I briefed them on the situation last week.

“Our medical team is in regular contact with health authorities and is receiving the latest advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer and the World Health Organisation.

“Additional protective measures are being put in place on flights from China to further reduce the risk of our employees contracting coronavirus and we are providing them with regular updates on the latest health advice.”

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